Group at Work: The Third Mind

Jeff Tamarkin on July 23, 2020
Group at Work: The Third Mind

They don’t make albums like The Third Mind’s self-titled debut anymore. Which is exactly why guitarist and vocalist Dave Alvin—the Americana cornerstone best known as a cofounder of the Blasters—teamed with Camper Van Beethoven’s Victor Krummenacher (bass, vocals), Counting Crows/CVB’s David Immerglück (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Richard Thompson Band drummer Michael Jerome.

“The whole idea for these sessions was spontaneity,” says Alvin. “There was no rehearsal— nothing. We just went in that day, chose a key and that was it.”

What they ended up with is a remarkably diverse, sixsong dream playlist of ‘60s music, running the gamut from Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchidananda” through Fred Neil’s “The Dolphins,” the Grateful Dead’s arrangement of Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew,” the 13TH Floor Elevators’ “Reverberation” and a stunningly psychedelic, 16-minute-plus blowout of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “East-West.”

One original jam, named “Claudia Cardinale” after the actress, fills out the set. It quickly proves that the quartet— partially augmented by singer Jesse Sykes (who gives “Morning Dew” a vulnerable, harrowing reading) and X drummer DJ Bonebrake on vibraphone— is also quite capable of creating their own material.

For Alvin, participating in The Third Mind project—the band’s name is borrowed from a William Burroughs/Brion Gysin book—was the realization of a longtime desire. Inspired by a biography of Miles Davis that described the jazz genius’ fusion-era cut-and-paste method of recording improvisations and then shaping the various sections into finished pieces, he tossed around the idea of doing something similar with Krummenacher over a period of years. What it morphed into was the two musicians—who, in particular, share a love for the guitar playing of the late Butterfield band guitarist Mike Bloomfield—gathering the others in Alvin’s home studio and just going for it. “East-West,” the title track of the second Butterfield album, became the album’s anchor.

“If you sat down and said, ‘OK, we’re going to do ‘EastWest,” that’s pretty intimidating,” says Alvin. “So my first response was, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ But then we built things up until the four musicians had a pretty tight link.”

For the Coltrane tune, Alvin remembers being told by the others to “be like [saxophonist] Pharoah Sanders.”

“That’s a tall order,” he says. “But who I can be is sort of a combination of Magic Sam, Bloomfield and a little bit of Hendrix and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson. Once I decided that, I was like, ‘OK, this is easy.’”